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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 7
Jo Stuart
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Emergency declaration likely today
Rains that hit Caribbean were a record
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The presidential cabinet will meet this morning to consider declaring a state of emergency on the Caribbean slope and in the northern zone where record rains have forced more than 6,000 persons from their homes.

The cabinet is almost certain to recommend that action to President Abel Pacheco, who is preparing to visit the affected areas Wednesday. Such a declaration would allow public money to be shifted to help the region.

From Sarapiquí in the north to Sixaola in the extreme south rains that measured 350 mms. (14 inches) in 24 hours turned rivers into torrents.

Perhaps as many as six persons died in the flooding. they still are missing.

South of Costa Rica, in the Boca del Toro region on Panamá, the record rains also had a major impact. More than 5,000 persons have been evacuated there, according to Panamanian officials.

The most storm refugees were in Sarapiquí in Heredia Province. Disaster officials said they housed 2,160 persons in 14 shelters. Perhaps as many found refuge with family or friends.

The next worse hit area was Talamanca, where Puerto Viejo, a prime Caribbean tourist location, and Sixaola on the Panamá border are located. There 1,443 persons were housed in 21 shelters. This is an area with many Indian residents who live in smaller communities in the hills. So the full extent of the disaster will not be known for sometime.

Sixaola, located on the banks of the river of the same name, was a scene of devastation when seen from the air Monday. Single-story homes are the norm here, and each had flood water up to the level of the roof. The scene sprawled for several miles north and south.

The rescue work is being coordinated by the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. It reported 744 persons displaced in the municipality of Limón, 508 in nearby Matina and 250 in Guácimo. In all, 66 shelters were in use. These are mostly 

schools, gymnasiums and church halls.

The preliminary damage report suggests that significant public money will have to be spent to make repairs. Some 13 bridges in southeastern Costa Rica are knocked out or heavily damaged. Five more bridges are in the same state elsewhere.

Roads are damaged all over the area, as is a dike in Talamanca. Populations outside the evacuation areas have no clean drinking water. Some places have no food, and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública plans to make airdrops to isolated communities.

In Turrialba, a major city, officials at the Hospital Willian Alem reported damage from the rain.

A number of dwellings in the affected area are built on stilts and have experienced similar flooding. Others are designed as two-story dwellings with the second floor as a flood refuge. In some cases the waters rose higher than had been envisioned.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted more rain for the Northern zone, the Caribbean slope and Talamanca today but with a possibility of an easing of conditions toward evening. The institute, the weather bureau here, said it hoped for normal conditions by Wednesday.

The heavy rains are anything but normal. The total registered in 24 hours exceeded the monthly average for January in the Limón center area. In fact, the 350 mms. was the greatest 24-hour rainfall ever recorded in the area, said officials. The next highest was 290 mms. (11.6 inches) registered in 1970.

The Central Valley was spared the heavy rainfall due to mountain ranges. However, the area still experienced transportation delays due to highways blocked by landslides and vehicles unable to reach destinations on the Caribbean. Tourism was disrupted.

Although the period from Christmas until March is known as the dry season in Costa Rica, that term mainly applies to the Pacific coast and the Central Valley. Along the Caribbean, the period is one with the most rain for the year.

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Flu shot campaign
targets elderly, kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has kicked off a $1.6 million campaign to inoculate nearly 300,000 citizens, the elderly and youngsters under 5.

Leading the parade to the flu shot was President Abel Pacheco, who received his inoculation at the hands of Rocío Sáenz, the minister of Salud. He appeared in his undershirt on national television.

The campaign is being financed in part by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the organization that runs the hospitals and would bear the costs of any hospitalizations due to flu.

Those who are not members of the Caja’s medical system, including many expats here, can obtain shots at the local pharmacy. The cost will be about 3,500 colons (about $7.75), said a health ministry spokesperson.

The best time to get the shots is between now and April when the rainy/flu season starts.

Bolaños gives talk,
seeks end to crisis

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Enrique Bolaños gave a generally conciliatory speech to the national assembly dominated by his political enemies Monday.

The president called for a national understanding that would help Nicaragua move from the current constitutional crisis that could bring the country to the edge of armed conflict.

However, the assembly is poised to ratify a reform of the government that would turn the country into a parliamentary democracy. Already the body has stripped the president of the power to appoint a minister.

Some 90 percent of the assembly are either supporters of the Frente Sandinista del Liberación Nacional or the Partido Liberal Constitutionalista. Both Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and Liberal leader Arnoldo Alemán have joined forced to unseat the serving president.

Alemán, himself, is technically a prisoner under house arrest on his sprawling hacienda, although he has been free to meet with other politicians.

The United States supports Bolaños and has been working on his behalf.

Bolaños has threatened to seek foreign troops under an agreement with the Organization of American States if his hold on power is lessened by the assembly. That would pit foreign troops against the Nicaraguan military, which generally does not support Bolaños.

Newcomers planning
traditional area teas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Women’s Club of Costa Rica starts 2005 with its traditional neighborhood teas for members, friends, and newcomers. The first will be Wednesday, Jan. 26, for women in the east side of San José and the Central Valley.

There will be five teas in all, scattered throughout the valley. Newcomers are encouraged to come to any of the gathering to meet local women enjoy an afternoon with friends, the group said. 

The meetings will take place every Wednesday through February, visiting different regions. Each tea will begin at 2:30 p.m.

The second tea, will be for women in Coronado, Guadalupe, Moravia and Tibás  Feb. 2. Then Feb. 9, a gathering will be held for women in Rohrmoser, Pavas, Sabana, and La Uruca. The following week, on Feb. 16, women in Escazú and Bello Horizonte will meet. Lastly, a meeting will be held for women in Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón Feb. 23. 

For information regarding placement of the individual teas or any other questions, contact Anne at 267-7042.

Policeman takes bullet
as four are arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Fuerza Pública officer suffered a bullet wound to the groin Monday as police shot it out with four robbery suspects in La Aurora de Alajuelita.

Injured was Carlos Carvajal. He was one of several officers who gave chase when they saw four men running from the Supermercado Bellota. The men were running to get in a vehicle.

Later police found guns and a substantial amount of cash among the men’s possessions.

Officials said they believe the men are members of a gang that has been robbing commercial establishments and delivery trucks in Alajuelita and Escazú.

Quake rattles valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 4.0 earthquake, blamed on a local fault, rattled the Central Valley about 6:32 a.m. Monday. The epicenter was placed in the vicinity of Aserrí, the mountain town south of San José. No damage was reported.

New road to be opened

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Desamparados will inaugurate a new, half-kilometer (third of a mile) section of Calle Sur in Torremolinos Wednesday. The project was a joint one between the municipality and the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

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Producers promise a better blackberry and packaging this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

The Asociación de Productores de Mora has said that this year it will be offering better quality blackberries. Under the slogan of "Fresh blackberries everyday and all year," the association has said that improved packaging will ensure longer-lasting fruit. 

The small organization of 350 blackberry farmers was created 15 years ago. The farmers are from Los Santos of Pérez Zeledón and El Guarco de Cartago and produce 75 percent of Costa Rican blackberry crops, the majority of which are exported. 

Nevertheless, this year farmers will be offering the same high quality produce that is required for external markets such as the United States and Europe. The blackberries will be picked and packed at the farm where they were grown. The blackberries will then be sold in a plastic container marked with an organic product stamp. Each container will hold 170 grams of blackberries. The organization said that the fruit will become immediately available at agricultural fairs and supermarkets. 

According to information from the Programa Nacional de Frutas Tropicales, there are more than 1,300 hectares of blackberries cultivated in Costa Rica. The 

season for harvesting blackberry crops begins during September and peaks during December and May. According to estimations from the internal market, an average Costa Rican consumes just two kilos (4.4 pounds) of fruit every year. The blackberry is known for its nutritional properties used to combat anemia and diabetes.

Alberto Montero, manager of the Programa Nacional de Frutas Tropicales, said that this is an excellent move by the farmers of blackberries. Montero said that by the end of January there will be new quality control requirements put in place. 

Colombia denies Venezuelan claim it kidnapped rebel in Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Columbia — A top Colombian official has denied Venezuelan allegations that Colombian police lied about where they captured a leftist rebel leader.

Colombia's Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe says neither the Colombian army nor other authorities violated Venezuela's territory or that of neighboring countries. Colombia says its security forces arrested Rodrigo Granda Dec. 14 in the Colombian city of Cucuta near the Venezuelan border.

But during his weekly television show Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the rebel leader was actually kidnapped earlier from Venezuela's capital, Caracas, by Colombian intelligence agents and smuggled over the border.

Chavez says cell phone records show that Granda made a phone call from Caracas shortly before his capture.

The Venezuelan president says the incident could affect bilateral relations, which have been improving in recent years.

Gunman held as Honduran police probe assassination attempt on Maduro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Authorities here say they have captured a Nicaraguan man who attempted to assassinate Honduran President Ricardo Maduro.

Police say they arrested the 40-year-old man, Jose Leonidad, who was armed with a grenade launcher and 

a rifle, on Friday. They suspect the man was hired by an organized crime group.

Honduran authorities increased Maduro's personal security in December because of threats by drug gangs.

Dec. 23, alleged gang members killed 28 people on a public bus.

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OAS will consider tsunami early-warning systems
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Organization of American States has expressed its solidarity with victims of the Asian tsunami tragedy, saying that what happened to countries in the Indian Ocean region made clear "that the world is one in its vulnerability to natural disasters."

And the disaster may lead to early warning systems in the Americas.

In a statement, the chairman of the OAS Permanent Council, Manuel Maria Cáceres, said many OAS member countries, including the United States, have offered financial or technical assistance to the nations affected by the giant tsunami. Several of the affected countries, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, are permanent observers at the OAS.

The OAS added that its acting secretary-general, Luigi Einaudi, has said that he will convene a meeting of the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction as soon as possible, with a view to improving regional and global cooperation in disaster relief, including the establishment of early-warning systems.

Einaudi said the challenge highlighted by the tragedy in the Indian Ocean region demonstrates the need to develop such measures on a global and regional scale. The Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction is composed of such groups as the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Pan American Health Organization.

The OAS recalled that many Central American and Caribbean nations have suffered devastating floods and hurricanes, most recently in the Caribbean in late 2004, and noted that historically, tsunamis have caused colossal damage along the coasts of Chile and Peru.

The OAS's Cáceres said that "we in the Americas who have experienced such devastation from natural phenomena send our most profound and heartfelt condolences to the Indian Ocean nations that with the tsunami disaster have suffered enormous damage, and pledge to continue sharing with them our expertise and resources to confront the difficult situation affecting the region."

More than 150,000 people died, and more than 500,000 were injured after a powerful earthquake triggered gigantic tidal waves in the Indian Ocean region.

Jo Stuart
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